Skip to content
Join our Newsletter

In Jewish tradition, letting go is an act of renewal

A powerful Rosh HaShana (New Year) ritual is Tashlikh, literally casting away things that we are not proud of. 

In the Jewish tradition we prepare for the new year by focusing on contemplative work that allows individuals to connect with their aspirational self.  Judaism understands that each human is created in the image of the Divine.  We are essentially emanations from God and we hold within us Divine light, our souls. Judaism prods us to check in with close ones and ask for mechilah.  Mechilah literally means forgiveness and also dancing. We are in essence, asking close ones if we are dancing in our relationship and if not, what do we need to repair to continue the dance. By checking in with close family and friends we also gain awareness of where we may not have been true to ourselves and others.  This offers personal insight into the internal work needed to not only set things right but to set ourselves right.

The tradition also offers powerful rituals that allow us to become unencumbered.  We all make promises to self and some of us to God that we cannot fulfill.  Think about those moments when you wake up in the middle of the night with a rush of anxiety and you make a hasty deal with Divine Source.  “Oh God if you get me through this difficult life trial I promise….”  From the outset we are cautioned not to make deals like this and to be careful with what we promise, but we are human and I sense it is part of our makeup.  A powerful Rosh HaShana (New Year) ritual is Tashlikh, literally casting away things that we are not proud of.  We cannot let go of promises we make to other people and we cannot cast off real hurts or damage we have done, we need to work on real forgiveness and reconciliation.  We can, however, let go of negative emotions, negative self-image as well as promises to self that were too grandiose and simply not doable.  At Tashlikh we cast off this negative stuff. I am avoiding the word ‘sin’ because I find the word is loaded and can bring up issues of shame.  Sin in Hebrew is Chet and holds the meaning of missing the mark, like in archery.  Chet, like the times I was tasked to really show up for a friend in need and I was not fully present, or the opportunities I may have missed in doing acts of kindness and care that I avoided. 

At Tashlikh we go to a body of water and metaphorically transfer the experiences, attitudes or ways of being that we are not proud of onto an object like a rock and cast it into the water.  There was a time when we used bread, but we learned that tossing bread into bodies of water is not healthy for marine life, so here in Victoria we use rocks.  Some people actually bring a fresh rock home with the intention of placing mistakes onto the rock for the following year.  I love this ritual. I love the way I feel after clearing the yuck that I am holding that is not beneficial to me.  I love the sense that I can begin the new year clear and ready with a renewed start to fully live my best self.  If you are holding negative stuff that is interpersonal — that needs real care. But if you are holding negative self-thoughts, images and ideas, this ritual may be for you. Let go and be renewed.  One special caveat: for the ritual to work, you need to really let go of it.

Rabbi Harry Brechner is Rabbi of Congregation of Emanu-El in Victoria, B.C.

You can read more articles on our interfaith blog, Spiritually Speaking at

* This article was published in the print edition of the Times Colonist on Saturday, September 23rd 2023

push icon
Be the first to read breaking stories. Enable push notifications on your device. Disable anytime.
No thanks